I am starting to record my guided meditations again, and it seems everywhere I turn, there’s a lot of opinions about the efficacy of mindfulness being thrown around. One of the most common ones I hear is, “Oh, I tried to meditate, but it didn’t work because my mind goes all over the place.” I’m sure these same people say:
“You know, I tried playing baseball, but the bat didn’t make contact with the ball…so baseball doesn’t work for me.”
“I really wanted to knit, but the yarn and the needles didn’t exactly come together and make a scarf. Obviously, knitting is not for me.”
Okay. No one says those things. Most people have a basic understanding that playing baseball and knitting are learned skills, but those same people view meditation is an event. There’s a common misconception that if we get really quiet and deeply breathe that eventually the inner dialogue will quieten down, and we will be left with a very silent or all-knowing mind. Sometimes that happens temporarily. Most of the time, my internal voices get louder. That is the moment when students decide that meditation doesn’t work. We came to meditation because someone told us that it reduces stress, and the voice inside that says, “Who do you think you are? You are horrible at this,” rears it’s ugly head, and we get freaked out. You wanted to meditate to calm down, not give that jerk in your mind a megaphone.
What if I told you that the moment that happens is when your meditation practice begins? That moment when your internal dialogue is loud and shouting is like your first day at batting practice. Yes, there is a sadistic robot throwing balls at you, and it’s scary. You could quit. Or you could start to notice the rhythm at which the baseballs get tossed. You could notice that you have a bat. You pay attention to how long it takes your bat to swing around and make contact with the ball. You might even try to take a swing. That’s great because swinging and missing is how we get better at hitting. Like hypothetical batting practice, paying attention is really all you need to do to learn meditation.
If you have symptoms of anxiety or unresolved trauma, you may find meditation highly difficult. I know the feeling of being overwhelmed by the sensations in my body and the thoughts in my own mind. Mindfulness or any other meditation method is still a beneficial and necessary skill to calm an anxious mind. I have found guided meditations helpful in my practice. When I’m given specific instructions, my mind isn’t able to wander off into an overwhelming place. You may also have some success with adding ambient music or sound. The music can serve as an anchor into the present moment, and it can be soothing to the mind and body. I have used both guided meditations and soft music to great success in my own practice, and I highly recommend them. Now, that you have a teacher who has given you permission to accommodate your body and mind (You’re welcome.), let’s discuss some common meditation misconceptions:
Meditation isn’t about quieting your mind. It’s learning a new way to interact with your mind and your present experience. The fact that your brain is alive means that it will be constantly taking in stimuli and processing it. So, if when you sit down to meditate and your brain starts ping-ponging all over the place, you aren’t failing. In fact, noticing that your mind is doing that means you are practicing a higher level of self-awareness. Congratulations! You have a perfectly alive and functioning mind, and you are already practicing mindfulness.
Meditation isn’t about escaping obstacles or hardships. In fact, meditation is bravely diving deep into the manure pile that is your mind. The practice lies in learning to interact with thoughts differently by meeting them with acceptance. That doesn’t mean we say to our negative internal dialogue, “Gosh, you’re right. I AM terrible.” We hear our mind, and we also recognize that our thoughts are sometimes just old patterns and ways we learned to interact with world. The brain that’s jumping around from subject to subject learned to be that way, and it may have even learned this way of thinking at a very young age. Sitting with this can bring about a lot of sadness, anger, and fear. You may be thinking, “But I’ve already got tons of sadness, anger, and fear. No thank you, meditation.” Meditation is the science of examining your own mind. In order to know about gorillas, we have to go study them in their natural habitat. Well, it’s the same thing with your “mind gorillas.” To know more about your mind, we have to study it in it’s natural environment. Yes, it feels dangerous, but it’s how we learn.
Meditation isn’t about becoming someone else. It’s about discovering who you really are. I’ve wanted to be anyone else for a very long time. The first meditation retreat I went on was out of the pure desire to get rid of all the things about me that I thought were bad. Yet, I left with the knowledge that, I’m not all of those things I didn’t like about myself, and I even could practice making friends with the parts I thought were bad. My mind didn’t have a horrible attention span, it actually was very anxious, constantly looking for threats, and it had a many things it thought it needed to pay attention to. Instead of self-flagellation, I could choose to have compassion for a mind that has tried so long to protect me from danger and rejection.
For me, meditation has made my head a friendlier place. I don’t mean that I constantly have sunshine and rainbows floating around in there all day. The “bad” thoughts don’t go away; yet, my relationship to them has changed. Instead of living in fear and avoidance of things in my external environment triggering bad feelings or thoughts within me, I can be a bit more open to the world. If I’m not afraid of my own mind, then even the worst thoughts begin to lose their emotional charge. When you begin to understand that all those thoughts may not be true, you start getting curious about all the other distressing beliefs that may not be true as well. A meditation practice requires you to dive deep into all of the things that feel the exact opposite of relaxing. Meditation won’t relax you on it’s own, but it can teach you, over time, how to relate to yourself and others in a more relaxed way.
For my FREE guided meditations to start your practice, you can find them on iTunes.